McEnroe cannot see another grand slam win for Federer

McEnroe, a four-time U.

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S. Open champion and three-times Wimbledon winner, is not ruling Federer out of contention for the latter stages of the tournament but he feels it may now be too much to expect the Swiss to go all the way.

“To me, it’s obviously going to be a lot more difficult at this stage,” McEnroe, now a television commentator with ESPN, said on a conference call.

“I don’t see at this stage him being able to go through all seven (rounds) and have to beat at least two of these (top) three guys.

“Maybe he would use that type of thing as incentive. When you’ve won 17, you clearly think you can win another one. To me, there comes a point, even as great as Roger has been for so many years, that it catches up to you a little bit,” McEnroe added.

Beaten by the 116th-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round at Wimbledon, Federer also lost to Federico Delbonis in the Hamburg semi-finals and 55th-ranked Daniel Brands on home soil in Gstaad.

He fared a little better in Cincinnati last week, reaching the quarter-finals where he was beaten by eventual winner, and U.S. Open favourite, Rafa Nadal.

STEP TOO FAR

McEnroe believes that while Federer’s experience and ability mean he will still be a factor, grand slam win number 18 may be a step too far now.

“There are certainly scenarios where he could easily still get late into an event and even to a final,” McEnroe said. “Andre (Agassi) got to the final of the Open at 35, so there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t do it.

“At Wimbledon I could see him going late into an event, a final. I could see it on a hard court…but I personally think that at this stage it’s going to be quite, quite difficult for him to win another one.”

With Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all displaying better form and consistency, McEnroe expects tough decisions ahead for Federer, especially if he remains well behind those three in the rankings.

“These guys are hungry,” said McEnroe. “There’s other guys that want get on the board. He’s 32. He’s going to have to at some stage decide how bad he wants it if he does dip lower in the world.

“I doubt he’ll enjoy being in that spot. All these factors are going to start to come into it. Now, he can shut everyone up if he was able to go all the way at the Open and he could still keep himself in the running.”

McEnroe also felt that Federer has lost some of his sharpness and balance.

“I think one of the things you notice a little bit is possibly he’s slowed down a little bit,” the American said. “The balance and the movement are not quite as (Rudolf) Nureyev-like as they were in the past.

“So he’s reaching for more balls and therefore miss‑hitting more shots. It doesn’t seem like he’s been able or willing to make that adjustment where he’s got to either play safer or take that extra step to balls.”

For McEnroe, Federer no longer seemed to have the same self-belief in his movement about the court.

“That first quick step you got to take to take advantage of a ball, especially how hard as they guys hit it,” he said.

“He’s so used to being able to go big and hit pretty much everything he wants. And part of why he’s so great is because he’s stubborn and he believes in himself, so he’s unwilling to change a whole lot.”

(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)

Azarenka safely through after dropping set

A finalist last year and one of the favourites to win the title this season, the Belarussian passed her first real test at the championship in beating beat Alize Cornet of France 6-7(2) 6-3 6-2.

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By her own admission, this was not one of Azarenka’s best performances. She made 38 unforced errors and got involved in an argument with the chair umpire over a line call.

“I don’t think I played my best tennis today but I have to give her credit. She played really well,” Azarenka said.

“The dynamic of the match was a little bit weird for me.

“I felt like I didn’t take my opportunities in the first set, which was kind of a waste and it gave her a lot of confidence.”

The first set took more than an hour to complete and the 24-year-old Azarenka was frustrated that she let it go after fighting back from 4-1 behind to force a tiebreak.

But she raised her game in the remaining two sets, reducing her unforced error count.

“That was more me playing, more finding the rhythm,” she said.

“I felt much better in the third set than in the first set which was going past the two‑hour mark. It’s pretty good, so I’m happy with that.”

Azarenka’s frustrations threatened to boil over when the umpire ordered a point she had won to be replayed and was still fuming about it after the match.

“That was the most ridiculous thing there is,” she said.

“I had already walked to my chair, Alize almost walked to her chair, they said, ‘replay the point’.”

Despite her below-par performance, Azarenka said she enjoyed being under pressure, believing it brought out the best in her.

“I like pressure. I think pressure is something that if you want to be on top, you have to deal with,” she said.

“That’s what makes you better. You need that to be on top, to be motivated.

“If you don’t have any pressure, if you don’t feel like you have to achieve something, it’s not fun. For me, I need that.”

Azarenka’s next opponent is former world number Ana Ivanovic, who also came from behind to win her center court clash with American Christina McHale 4-6 7-5 6-4.

“Ana is a great player,” said Azarenka.

“She’s definitely in great form, and I’m sure she’s motivated and pumped up.

“It’s going to be a good match. She’s a great champion, as well. I’m looking forward to that.”

(Editing by Gene Cherry)

Malaysia to host new EurAsia Cup matchplay event in March

Ten of Europe’s top players will take on a 10-man team from Asia at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club from March 28-30 in a format similar to the Ryder Cup.

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Europe will select the leading four golfers from the final 2012-13 Race to Dubai money list, the top four available from the world rankings and two captain’s picks.

The Asian side will include the leading four players from their final Order of Merit, the top three available from the world rankings and three captain’s picks.

“We are delighted to announce the inaugural EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM as part of our initial sector of the schedule,” the European Tour’s chief operating officer and director of international policy Keith Waters said in a news release.

“With the addition of the Nedbank Golf Challenge – one of seven events in South Africa – and the continued strength of the ‘desert swing’, including the 25th anniversary of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, we can look forward to an outstanding start to the Race to Dubai.”

The long-established Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City in December, boasting a prize fund of $6.5 million, is making its first appearance as a European Tour-sanctioned event.

The rest of the 2013-14 calendar is expected to be announced later this year.

Initial sector of 2013-14 European Tour schedule: November 21-24 South African Open

(Glendower Golf Club, Gauteng, Johannesburg) November 28- Alfred Dunhill Championship December 1 (Leopard Creek Country Club, Malelane, S.Africa) December 5-8 Nedbank Golf Challenge

(Gary Player Country Club, Sun City, S.Africa) December 5-8 Hong Kong Open

(Hong Kong Golf Club, Fanling) December 12-15 Nelson Mandela Championship

(Mount Edgecombe Country Club, Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, S.Africa) January 9-12 Volvo Golf Champions (venue to be announced) January 16-19 Abu Dhabi Championship

(Abu Dhabi Golf Club, United Arab Emirates) January 22-25 Qatar Masters

(Doha Golf Club) January 30- Dubai Desert Classic February 2 (Emirates Golf Club, United Arab Emirates) February 6-9 Joburg Open

(Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club) February 13-16 Africa Open

(East London Golf Club, Eastern Cape, S.Africa) February 19-23 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship

(Ritz-Carlton GC, Dove Mountain, Marana, Arizona) February 27- Tshwane Open March 2 (Copperleaf Golf & Country Estate, Centurion, SA) March 6-9 WGC-Cadillac Championship

(Doral Golf Resort & Spa, Florida) March 13-16 Trophee Hassan II

(Golf du Palais Royal, Agadir, Morocco) March 28-30 EurAsia Cup

(Glenmarie G&CC, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

(Writing by Tony Jimenez; editing by Toby Davis)

Serena, Azarenka one step from title rematch

Williams, the top-seeded defending champion, will look to extend a dominant run through the women’s draw against fifth-seeded Li Na of China, who became the first Chinese to reach the last four at the U.

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S. Open.

Second seed Azarenka will face Italy’s unseeded Flavia Pennetta, whose brilliant run at Flushing Meadows has carried her to her first grand slam semi-final.

Should form prevail, Williams and Azarenka would set up the first repeat final at the U.S. Open since Serena Williams played her sister Venus Williams for the prize in 2002.

Azarenka, 24, joined the trio of 31 year olds with a last-eight victory over 30-year-old Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia in a women’s draw that has underlined the fitness and ferocity of the old guard.

Should they lift the trophy on Sunday, Williams, Li or Pennetta would become the oldest U.S. Open women’s winner since tennis turned professional in 1968, supplanting Australian Margaret Court, who was 31 years and 55 days old when she triumphed in 1973.

Williams has been on fire, losing only 13 games and spent the least time on court although she has done double duty playing with sister Venus in the women’s doubles.

The American aced her quarter-finals test against Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro by delivering a 6-0 6-0 double bagel win.

Williams later offered a shuddering thought.

“I like to believe there is always room for improvement,” she said.

Against former French Open winner Li, current French Open champion Williams holds an 8-1 advantage in head-to-head meetings, but has had some hard battles along the way. She won their last encounter in Cincinnati 7-5 7-5 in the semis.

Williams holds the Chinese player in high regard.

“She’s a great challenge,” Williams said. “She moves really well. She does everything well.

“We’ve always played really close. Maybe next time we play she might want to go from close to a win.”

Li has been on a revenge tour, beating Briton Laura Robson to avenge a 2012 U.S. Open loss, and Serb Jelena Jankovic, who had enjoyed a four-match winning streak against her.

“It’s a good challenge to play against her, because I think we always have tough match, even in Cincinnati,” said Li.

“There are only four players at end of the tournament, so nothing you can worry about. Just play the tennis. Just enjoy the time.”

Azarenka and Pennetta have split their two previous matches, missing a crack at a rubber match when the Belarusian withdrew from their second-round Wimbledon contest this year because of a knee injury.

Pennetta, like Williams, has not dropped a set during her U.S. Open run and is back to playing at her best level after having her 2012 season curtailed by a wrist injury that kept her out of the U.S. Open and required surgery.

“I’m confident because I’m here,” said Pennetta, who ousted fourth-seeded compatriot Sara Errani, former champion Svetlana Kunznetsova and red-hot Simona Halep along the way.

“I really don’t feel this pressure. In Italy we already have one champion in grand slam,” she said, referring to 2010 French Open winner Francesca Schiavone.

“I really don’t feel this pressure right now.”

Azarenka, who overcame former number one Ana Ivanovic 4-6 6-3 6-4 in the fourth round, said she would not underestimate the Italian despite her ranking of 83.

“Flavia is such an amazing person,” said Azarenka. “To see her go through the injuries and coming up with the best results she has right now, it’s really amazing.

“She’s a very good player, an all-around player. She can do anything. She has great touch, great variety. She can create power, create spin. She’s also very experienced and has been in the top 10.

“Her ranking doesn’t matter. It’s about the moment right now, and she’s playing terrific tennis.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

Balotelli winner sends Italy to World Cup

A Giorgio Chiellini header and Mario Balotelli’s penalty early in the second half cancelled out Libor Kozak’s 19th minute opener for the visitors and moved the Italians on to 20 points, seven ahead of second-placed Bulgaria with two games to play.

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Balotelli’s 54th-minute winner capped a typically eventful night for the striker, who missed three easy first-half chances and was lucky not to get sent off for a foul on Tomas Sivok.

“I’ve never missed two such easy chances before, I was unlucky but I kept going until the end,” Balotelli said.

“The easier one was the second one that (keeper Petr) Cech dropped to me. I shot high because I thought that if I shot low he would have saved it but I ended up hitting it too high.”

Michal Bilek’s spirited Czech side were unlucky not to get at least a point against Cesare Prandelli’s unconvincing Italy and their night finished on a sour note when Daniel Kolar was sent off for a silly foul on Balotelli in the last minute.

Had Kozak’s smart curling shot sneaked inside the post after a blistering counter-attack in first-half stoppage time it could have been a different result against the patchy hosts, who despite being favourites to qualify frequently put themselves under unnecessary pressure.

“I always have a terror when people start talking about partying,” said Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon, who equalled Fabio Cannavaro’s record of 136 Azzurri appearances.

“Having passed the terror we had in the first half we can now celebrate, and I can celebrate this small record of mine, as well as getting a ticket for Brazil.”

The result means the Czechs remain on nine points and are staring elimination in the face. They have slipped into fourth place behind Denmark who won 1-0 in Armenia and moved on to 12 points to stand one point behind Bulgaria, who beat Malta 2-1.

The Czechs must win their last two games away to Malta and Bulgaria next month to have any chance of a playoff place.

SHOCK LEAD

The visitors took a shock lead after 19 minutes with a brilliant counter-attacking goal against the run of play.

Tomas Rosicky fed Petr Jiracek, who had set off on a marauding run down the left before whipping a perfect cross over to former Lazio striker Kozak, who expertly slotted home the opener on the half-volley.

Balotelli then wasted two golden chances to equalise in the space of a minute, thumping against the bar from only metres out before crashing over from the same distance after Cech spilled Antonio Candreva’s weak shot to the AC Milan striker’s feet.

He then headed too close to Cech from close range after a superb Andrea Pirlo cross eight minutes before the break.

Italy quickly turned the result around at the start of the second half, with Juventus defender Chiellini nodding the equaliser into an empty net from a Pirlo corner in the 51st minute after Cech charged out of his goal only to miss the ball.

Three minutes later Balotelli made amends for his first-half mishaps when he was clumsily brought down in the area by Theodor Gebre Selassie before stepping up to casually shoot the resulting spot kick past a stationary Cech.

The Czechs rallied and Italy, with qualification in their sights, began to sit back and frustrate a nervous home crowd.

However, despite causing the Italian defence to panic on a number of occasions, the Czechs could not capitalise on their dominance and the hosts hung on to qualify with two games to spare for the first time.

(Reporting by Terry Daley; Editing by Ken Ferris and Sonia Oxley)